City church to go solar

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Eco-grant, farmers fund huge array on Trail

City council has super-sized an environmental grant so that a church group can build one of the largest solar arrays in St. Albert.

Council gave unanimous consent to some $26,000 worth of environmental initiatives grants Monday, made at the recommendation of the environmental advisory committee (EAC).

In an unusual move, some $12,500 of those grants went to a single project: the installation of a solar array on the St. Albert United Church on Green Grove Drive.

Grant applicants can normally receive a maximum of $5,000 under the grant program, but the EAC asked council to make an exception.

This was a particularly innovative project, said committee chair Jason Cooke in an interview, one that showed exceptional environmental leadership.

“It certainly captivated one’s attention,” he said, adding it was the first time that someone had submitted a solar project for a grant and the first time they had considered giving more than $5,000.

This was an exceptional project that came up at a time when the grant fund had money to spare, Cooke said. “Does this mean that any group with a solar project can expect to receive that amount of money from the grant program in the future? I think the answer is probably not.”

Solar legacy

The church got the idea for the solar project when the Bocock family approached it, said United Church council chair Stephen Fitzpatrick. The Bococks, who farm north of St. Albert, wanted to make a large donation on behalf of Phyllis Bocock, a trustee with the church who died in April. As the Bococks had previously put solar panels on their own property, the church believed a large, public solar array would make a fitting tribute to her.

The church plans to erect a steel awning on its south roof that will hold 22 solar electric panels, Cooke said, generating some 4.62 kilowatts of electricity. The awning also has room for more panels. The grant would pay for about 20 per cent of the project.

It’s estimated that this project will be the largest solar array in St. Albert when built, capable of preventing some four tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

The panels will feed power back into the electricity grid, Fitzpatrick said, which, at eight cents per kilowatt-hour, should pay for about 10 per cent of the church’s power bill. The church plans to post the array’s power production on its website, and hopes the panels will inspire others to get into renewable energy.

This is about showing respect for God’s creation through environmental stewardship, Fitzpatrick said. “If a faith community like the United Church in St. Albert can’t take a leadership role in attempting to do that, then who can?”

This project will have long-term implications for the city, said Mayor Nolan Crouse, who planned to ask the church for regular updates. “We’d like to see more than just one annual report.”

The church hoped to have the panels up by next summer, Fitzpatrick said.

Other grants

Six other projects also received cash through the grant program Monday. The St. Albert Christmas Bird Count got $350 to run its annual survey, while Albert Lacombe School would get about $680 for its Seed to Salad program. Some $1,500 went to the Big Lake Environment Support Society to expand the annual Clean Up the Sturgeon Event, while the St. Albert Catholic Church got about $5,000 for a community garden.

The Bellerose Composite High EcoAction Club received about $925 to plant 150 native plants in celebration of the city’s sesquicentennial.

The River Edge Enhancement Project planned to use its $5,000 grant to buy trees and do a detailed study on its current plots along the Sturgeon River.

Applications for the next round of environmental initiatives grants are due next fall.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.